Author Topic: Recommendations for Touring Bike / Blue Ridge Parkway / Senior Rider  (Read 823 times)

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Offline pascforum


I live near the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. I'm interested in riding this in segments, going south. I have a road bike, but think having a touring bike will be the better option. I'd appreciate receiving recommendations either about specific touring bikes to consider getting or just what to look for in shopping for one. Used or new, either way. However, I'd definitely like something that's got the gears to get me up some of the steep and long hills south of here. Thanks.

Offline staehpj1

Are you actually touring, as in carrying camping gear or at least going multi day and moteling it?

Just me but...  If not planning to carry gear I personally would not look to a touring bike to get the gearing you need.  I know that I find riding my road bike more pleasant.  I'd look into whether you could either gear your road bike low enough for the conditions or look at the new gravel bikes.

I went lighter and lighter on my camping gear and stopped riding my touring bike even for touring.  My last coast to coast I rode with an older (1990) road race bike with low gearing (25-88 gear inches).  That said, if you want to buy a new bike, the new gravel bikes look like a great and fun do everything solution.

Offline John Nettles

As Pete says, IF you are moteling it, then a road bike is fine.  If you are carrying some camping gear, then a touring bike might be needed depending on how much stuff you bring.  The biggest factor is can you get low enough gearing on your current bike.  A good touring bike to see if you like it is to buy a used Surly Long Haul Trucker or Disc Trucker.

Tailwinds, John

Offline Pat Lamb

I've ridden most of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I'm a senior, so I'm going to come across as cantankerous.  With that warning:

Learn how to use a gearing calculator.  Look for a low of 20 gear inches.  You're going to want it, unless you're in such good shape that you don't come here asking for advice.

You've got two choices bicycle touring, and they come out to the same answer on the BRP.  The Parkway itself is mostly 6% or less, and tops out at 7.6% grade, IIRC, so it's not TOO bad.  However, it climbs at that grade for 5 miles at a time.  First choice is loaded touring: you'll want low gears so you can ride the bike with your gear up 5 miles of 6%.  It's really tough to walk those long stretches -- you'll go half as fast, twice as long, and bark your shins on the pedal every 100 yards or so.  So get the low gears so you can ride; it'll still be tough, but it's doable.

Second choice is motel (or warm showers, or …).  With three or four exceptions, there aren't services near the Parkway.  Motels and diners are a long way off the Parkway.  And since the Parkway is on the top of the Blue Ridge, especially when you get into North Carolina, that's three miles or more down steep hills, and the same back up.  Those hills are often 10% or more -- nasty climbs on twisty roads.  Your standard road bike with a 27 gear inch low, or even the Surly LHT with a 24" low, is going to be tough to ride up that hill, and then you're tired for the rest of the day's ride to go.  So again you'll want lower gears -- 20 gear inches is 2-3 more low gears, and yes, it will often be the difference between walking and riding.

Strangely enough, the Surly Disc Trucker has an adequate low (unlike the rim brake Long Haul Trucker).  You might also want to look at some of the gravel or adventure bikes, like REI's ADV 3.1.

Offline staehpj1

Learn how to use a gearing calculator.  Look for a low of 20 gear inches.
I agree that a low enough gear is important, I'd have said 25" is probably low enough for most people, especially on the parkway.  Some of the climbs up to the parkway would be where there would be exceptions if anywhere, but I have never toured with lower than a 25" gear even for loaded touring.  We are not clear on what you might be carrying so that may factor, but it didn't really sound like you were probably camping.  If the load is light, super low gears are probably overkill.

A 20" gear is a pretty specialized thing for heavy loaded touring to my way of thinking and not necessary for everyone even at that.

Not knocking super low gears, they gave their place, just trying to put them into perspective a bit.

BTW, just to calibrate a little I am an older rider myself (almost 69) and have never been super fit at the start of my tours.
« Last Edit: May 01, 2020, 01:17:58 pm by staehpj1 »

Offline DanE

Since you say you live in Virginia near the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway I would suggest you take your current bicycle over to Otter Creek on the Parkway and ride south toward Peaks of Otter. I think you will quickly figure out on that hill whether your current bike is adequate and how much lower gearing you will need. It would be a weekend day well spent.

Offline Pat Lamb

I gotta say Pete Staehling is a stronger rider than I am.

Since you say you live in Virginia near the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway I would suggest you take your current bicycle over to Otter Creek on the Parkway and ride south toward Peaks of Otter. I think you will quickly figure out on that hill whether your current bike is adequate and how much lower gearing you will need. It would be a weekend day well spent.

Great suggestion!  It's probably one of the tougher climbs in Virginia (riding north or south from Roanoke gives you a couple more like it).  South of Boone is a short stinger, north and south of Asheville, and north from Cherokee are similar climbs in North Carolina.  Or you can check out the full list of climbs at the bottom of https://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/bicycling-the-parkway.htm.

Offline staehpj1

I gotta say Pete Staehling is a stronger rider than I am.
Not sure that is true, but I do tend to push bigger gears than you do.  These days I also pack very light which helps a lot.

Offline BikePacker

For me (and my all time favorite paved ride is the Skyline Drive/Blue Ridge Parkway, in entirety) ...
chain inches under 20 ...
that way I have been able to easily handle any/every climb ...
no matter how worn out I may be &
while lightly to heavily loaded with gear ...
it just does not matter with low gear inches on board : ).
Also (you probably already know this : ) ...
with there being about 500 documented off-road trails along the full 595 miles stretch ...
if you do wish to opt for exploring any of those trails as you go ...
the lower your chain inches the greater your ease of exploration shall be.

Offline staehpj1

Also (you probably already know this : ) ...
with there being about 500 documented off-road trails along the full 595 miles stretch ...
if you do wish to opt for exploring any of those trails as you go ...
the lower your chain inches the greater your ease of exploration shall be.
I have been under the impression that all the trails in the park were off limits to bicycles.  The NPS site says "Bicycles, including mountain bikes, may not be ridden on trails or walkways."  Are there designated exceptions in the park that I am unaware of?  I know that there are hiking trails and I know that there are mountain biking opportunities outside the park, but was not aware of any along the parkway actually in the park.
https://www.nps.gov/blri/planyourvisit/bicycling-the-parkway.htm

Offline BikePacker

Re: Recommendations for Touring Bike / Blue Ridge Parkway / Senior Rider
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2020, 09:15:26 am »
I have been under the impression that all the trails in the park were off limits to bicycles.  The NPS site says "Bicycles, including mountain bikes, may not be ridden on trails or walkways."
I never noticed any signage per the above. 
Either I was in violation or it has been a limitation that has developed since I used to spend much more time thereabouts.
Good heads up - Thanks.

Offline froze

Re: Recommendations for Touring Bike / Blue Ridge Parkway / Senior Rider
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2020, 10:50:34 am »
If you want to buy a new touring bike that is fairly inexpensive yet can do virtually anything I would look at a Masi Giramondo 700c if you'll be touring mostly on paved roads, or a 27.5 if you'll be touring mostly off road.

I did a lot of research on touring bikes for the last 6 months after getting sideswiped and crashing my mint condition 85 Schwinn Le Tour Luxe and totaling it out.  My price range was no more than $2,000 and had to be steel, and the Masi 700c ( I'm doing mostly pavement) won the competition by a landslide actually, even the much ballyhooed Surly Long Haul Trucker, or the Trek 920 failed to make it even into the top 3 choices because of price mostly when others had the same stuff and then some for less money.

For my criteria the 3 that came to the top was the Kona Sutra in 2nd, and the Salsa Marrakesh in 3rd.  The Salsa was a interesting bike and was almost my number 1 pick but then I found out you had to use their proprietary racks and bags, I already had bags.  The Kona came with racks but they were made of aluminum and not steel, I actually know people, and as well as read about people who's AL racks broke at the welds after time, and that the best racks were steel made by Tubus, well the Masi 700c (not the 27.5) comes with Tubus Tara steel racks, the only touring that offered steel racks. 

Also the Masi had the lowest climbing gear of any touring bike I saw, and with my experience on my old vintage Schwinn trying to climb a grade with a load was somewhat of struggle and those grades weren't even mountain grades!  The gear range on the Masi is the rear cluster is 11-36 and the front is 44/32/24, this bike is not made for top speed!

The other thing too was of all the disk brake touring bikes I saw this was the only mechanical disk brake used, which again after talking to other tourists almost all of them said (including a bike mechanic I know who tours) get the mechanical disk brakes due to ease of repair and adjusting in the field, and some had hydraulic and wished they had mechanical.   So the Masi has TRP dual piston Spyer C brakes which most of the others only had single piston style; the other thing is that Masi put on a larger 180mm rotor on the front instead of using 160mm all around like all the other manufactures did, which only makes sense since about 90% of your braking is on the front and with a loaded touring bike you need that extra surface.

There are some minor quibbles with the Masi.  First off is the weight at 27.5 pounds, but that is the weight of the steel racks and the 1600 gram a piece Kenda tires.  The most obvious place to lose weight on this bike is to replace the Kenda tires with Schwalbe Marathon Supremes, these weigh around 485 grams each, so the tire change alone will remove nearly 5 pounds off the bike! and that's rotational weight!!  Also the Supremes have the 3rd lowest rolling resistance of any touring tire tested.  Some of you may be thinking that 27 pounds is heavy for a touring bike, well of all the bikes I looked at that's 27 pounds is on the lower side, the Trek 920 that cost more is at 29 pounds.  Also since I won't be using front panniers I will remove the front steel rack, not sure how much that weighs but maybe a pound?

The other minor quibble is the seat, but you know that's a personal thing, some may like the seat and others will hate it like I do.  So I'll be removing the B17 that was on my Schwinn and putting it on.  The Kona came with a B17 but again the seat thing I didn't care much about in my decision.

And the last quibble I had with the bike, again minor, is that it comes without pedals, but all the bikes I looked at that came with pedals I would have to change them anyways, so that's really a non issue.

I bought this bike without a test ride, which sort of worried me but I had huge success with my Lynskey that way so I thought what the heck, so I ordered it from a bike shop who was an authorized dealer for Masi but they didn't carry the Giramondo.  The very first impression I had when riding the Masi was how incredibly smooth riding it felt vs the Schwinn, and despite it's heavy tires it actually rolls just fine.  I just got the bike 3 weeks ago, the bike shop has a free pro fit they do with a bike purchase of over $1,000 but they haven't done it yet due to the Virus thing, nor have I gone on a tour with it yet till I get the fit done and till the open up state parks.  But the Masi, next to my Lynskey, has become my favorite bike to ride.  I'm riding it almost everyday now trying to get my legs use to the extra 10 pounds over the Lynskey, as soon as the fitting is done I will practice riding it with a load for a month or so till the parks open then I will do my first short tour.  I also ordered fenders for it but haven't put those on yet since the shop has them.

Sorry if I rambled on too much, but the Masi did check off all my boxes for what I wanted in a touring bike, you're concerns maybe different from mine, but by chance they're not different you now know about the Masi.  The Masi is a American owned company based in Vista California and part of Haro, but the bike itself is made in Taiwan.

https://masibikes.com/products/giramondo-700c-2020

Oh, I almost forgot, a fun fact about Masi, Masi was the bike ridden by actor Dennis Christopher who played the character named Dave Stoller in the award winning 1979 movie...Breaking Away!  There were very famous pro riders who rode Masi bikes including Merckx, Coppi, and Anquetil to name a few.